In this month’s Dysgeusia, Mark Davies returns to ponder the formula behind some of extreme metal’s heaviest success stories.
It’s a very fine balance that a small group of heavy bands hold, between having a massively iconic and instantly recognisable sound, and not just phoning it in album after album. So what is this balance, how do they maintain it, and why is it so elusive? This month we want to discuss whether bands need to alter their sound over time in order to retain their fans and remain successful.
We get it. That sounds a bit essay-ish, but with the announcements of a new Meshuggah album The Violent Sleep of Reason out on October 7 via Nuclear Blast records, and a subsequent tour of the UK beginning on the January 12 including a date at The O2 Ritz in Manchester on Januray 19, we felt it was a relevant subject.
Meshuggah’s sound is one that has been imitated to a ridiculous degree, with a new progressive metal band popping up on Bandcamp every other day showing a similar grooviness and an almost identical low and detuned mid-heavy guitar sound. What sets Meshuggah apart from some of the drivel that has spawned in their wake, of course, is that they were the pioneers, the inception point for all that came after them. Without these Swedish extreme metallers, the 8-string electric guitar would still be a distant Japanese dream, or at least nobody would know how to use it properly, with the exception of perhaps Animals as Leaders’ virtuoso Tosin Abasi.
The thing is, when you first wrap your ears around their discography, at a glance a lot of it sounds similar, particularly following 2002’s Nothing. Despite this, as it is with all things in life, it’s the nuances that count. Each album has its own distinct feel and mood that can be gleaned from a bit more in-depth listening.
Which brings us to the point: In the 14 years between Nothing and now, has their sound really altered a great deal? Jens Kidman’s growled vocals still sound the same, the guitar tones have only been tweaked here and there, the drums have been EQ’d a little differently each time, but on the whole, no, they haven’t changed much. Does that matter? No! Because their sound is iconic, and they are even now still gaining new fans, without feeling the need to pander to those that have followed them since the beginning.
Another band with a similarly mythical status and who are also bringing out their new album Dissociation on October 14, are those psychotic math-metalling bundles of energy The Dillinger Escape Plan. Accompanying the release will be a string of tours that will take them around the world, for what they have confirmed to be, sadly, their final farewells. They’re calling it a day.
We can sympathise with their motivations, guitarist Ben Weinman has explained that they would rather go out at peak form with their heads held high than watch themselves get older and slowly dwindle away. We understand and can definitely relate, but that doesn’t do much to soften the impact of this devastating news. The only solace is the fact that these final shows have promised to be even more insane than previous years, so you’d be a fool to miss out, it’s now or never!
The Dillinger Escape Plan, formed in 1997 in New Jersey, have long been known for their often violent and hyper-energetic live shows, which usually involve jumping off amps, hanging from the rafters by their legs whilst playing and causing all kinds of wanton mayhem at venues across the world. One listen to these guys will explain why: the pure aggression, the shrieking vocals and slashing frantic riffs, and not forgetting those ever powerful and catchy-as hell choruses, they are the embodiment of chaos.
Much like Meshuggah, listening to their discography in passing won’t afford you much in the way of variety, but each album has its own identity, and we’re sure Dissociation will be no different and just as mind-blowing.
So, is it necessary to alter one’s sound to remain current? That depends on a couple of factors surely. Firstly, look at those bands already mentioned, and perhaps another band that maintains that same delicate balance, like California’s Deftones, who first got lumped in with the Nu-metal scene in the 2000’s but were never truly part of it. Once the band had found their feet after a couple of albums, from then until now they have continued to create music that explores the relationship between elegant beauty and pummelling aggression.
Secondly, it depends on how captivating the music is to begin with, and how much the band can play around with that sound. Looking at bands like Amon Amarth (you’re Vikings, you sail in ships, pillage and worship Odin, we get it), the dreary Disturbed or those Scottish pirates Alestorm, whilst these bands are fun for a while (depending on your attention span) you can only rely on gimmicks for so long before you stagnate. These bands are examples of how to back yourself so far into a corner niche that you have no room left to experiment, each album sounds exactly the same, and is instantly forgettable.
We feel that a lot of the continued success of bands like Meshuggah and Dillinger and their ability to endure in the minds of fans, is the context in which they first appeared. These guys all sounded like nothing else around, like a breath of dissonant fresh air. These guys aren’t writing music to please anyone, they have been around long enough to know better, the records they create are more an expression and extension of their own selves, which gives them an unrivalled gravitas. These bands aren’t using their signature sound as a crutch; it’s who they are!
Along with album announcements from Dillinger and ‘Shuggah, we also have a new album A Means to No End due on the 21st of October from Italian maestros Destrage, which is sure to be jam packed with killer riffs, blistering drums and uncompromisingly catchy hooks. Not to mention a new Car Bomb album, Meta due on the 28th of October, which is going to blow some tasty holes in the walls and send your head spinning with it’s grinding guitars and furious polyrhythms.
Check our picks for this month, from the neck-snapping Meshuggah, to the zen-like Devin Townsend, we’re sure you’ll find something that will grab you.
Meshuggah – Born In Dissonance [Nuclear Blast]
First up, you might want to avoid moshing for this one or you’re going to need a neck brace, some serious grooves happening right here in the first single from Meshuggah’s upcoming new album The Violent Sleep of Reason.
Destrage – Symphony of The Ego [Metal Blade]
Next up is a statement on the over-reliance on social media to build our self-esteem. We’re not kidding either, even if that statement is bundled between layers of progressive metal madness!
The Devin Townsend Project – Failure [HevyDevy Records]
Taken from one of our favourite release of the past month, comes Failure from Devin’s latest album Transcendence, an instrospective exploration of spirituality, with the reverb turned up to 20, as we’ve come to expect and love from Devin.
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Limerant Death [Party Smasher/Sumerian]
No one can say Dillinger aren’t going out with a bang, this track is just a teaser for the math-metal mayhem these guys are going to unleash upon our masochistic ears when Dissociation drops!
Car Bomb – From The Dust of This Planet [Independent]
Prepare to throw all ideas about timing out the window with Car Bomb, what even is 4/4 anyway? Again, this track is only a tease for the main event, Meta due at the end of October